Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this week’s news: Godzilla crushes China, Jackie Chan teams up with John Cusack and Adrien Brody for an epic Han dynasty co-production, and Michelle Yeoh announces that she’s on board for a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel.
As expected, Godzilla stomped into the mainland box office with an opening weekend gross of $38.2 million, inches behind the success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which raked in this year’s record for imported films at $40.6 million during its premiere weekend. The film’s production company Warner Bros. is definitely enjoying its moment in the sun, since its sci-fi action film The Edge of Tomorrow occupies the second slot in this week’s box office rankings.
(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)
The currently underway Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) is China’s largest and most global festival, so it should be no surprise that this week’s coverage entails a hurricane of industry-shaking deals and project announcements with an an array of glamorous star sightings.
One project that has made significant waves at this year’s SIFF is the upcoming Jackie Chan-headed Dragon Blade. With American stars Adrien Brody and John Cusack attached to play Roman soldiers, the historically inspired story revolves around a Roman general that brought a legion to China during the Han dynasty. Produced by several companies including China’s Huayi Brothers, the film is the first to receive funding from the huge state-backed Beijing Cultural Assets Chinese Film & Television Fund, of which the Beijing municipal government is a large player. At a press junket for the upcoming 3D blockbuster, Chan, Brody, and Cusack voiced their enthusiasm for the project, with the latter beaming that “China is the future of world cinema. “
At one of the festival’s opening ceremonies, Nicole Kidman received an achievement award from director John Woo, and while on the red carpet to promote her new film Grace of Monaco, she reportedly said, “I love taking risks. As an actor, my career is always about pushing myself and pushing the boundaries. … I also like Chinese women; maybe one day I could play a Chinese woman.”
Other stars sighted amidst the deal-making were Hugh Grant, Liu Yifei, Hayden Christensen, Li Bingbing, and festival competition grand jurist Gong Li.
Another announcement was the confirmation that Michelle Yeoh will reprise her role in the upcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. Titled The Green Destiny, the film will be a Chinese-American co-production financed by the ubiquitous state China Film Group, the Pegasus Film Group, and America’s Weinstein Company (which also committed to another co-production at the festival, Southpaw). To add to the international flavor, special effects professionals from the Lord of The Rings series have been invited to work on the production.
Continuing a flurry of co-production announcements, American companies Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow announced a deal to back the Chinese 3D Fantasy film Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and The Dark Crystal. The film represents a contemporary turn for international production deals as the film doesn’t feature any Western talent, and will be aggressively aimed at the Chinese market with a release date set for the next Chinese New Year holiday.
As if that wasn’t enough big industry news, China’s largest online content provider Youku used the SIFF as an opportunity to announce a slated upcoming 20 reality and drama television shows, which include one based on hit teen-glam film series Tiny Times. E-commerce giant Alibaba also added details about its upcoming film group, which has plans to invest in eight to 10 films a year and is attracting top talent like Wong Kar-wai and Jet Li, who is a friend of Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
Sidelining all of the festival news this week are important Chinese government announcements regarding the film industry. One is that to spur the country’s enormous momentum, the government plans to spend 100 million yuan ($16 million) every year. While exact details haven’t been provided, the fund is intended to help produce between five and 10 films a year while also aiding the construction of theaters in poorer and western parts of China. This will be in conjunction with a series of tax benefits that will allow film industry execs to write off distribution and copyright transfer costs to rural and developing sectors of China’s film infrastructure.
In conjunction with all of the growth activity in China’s film business, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has issued new laws in what amounts to a further crackdown on media and freedom of expression on the mainland. More or less, the new laws stipulate that reporters are forbidden to publish content without the license of their publishers, and are also not allowed to set up their own websites that feature “critical content” without defining what “critical content” means. While the statement claims to the rules have been put in place to prevent reporters from taking bribes or extorting money, the new law allows for a more than significant level of discipline on China’s already extremely controlled media.